How to Improve Search Engine Rankings (SEO) for Your Blog
A lot of people give up on blogging and content marketing for business because they simply don’t see the traffic results they want. Despite months of hard work creating content and publishing it on your blog, you may find that no matter how hard you search, nothing’s appearing in the search engine results page (SERP).
Before we get into the details of how to improve search engine rankings (SEO) for your blog posts, let’s go over the basics of getting your website indexed by Google and other search engines.
Once your website is set up and indexed by Google, every new blog post will create a new link back to your site and a new reason for people to visit. Blog posts often bring more visitors to your website than your home page, about, contact us, and other main pages of your site.
Done properly, one blog post can rank for hundreds of different keywords and bring thousands of visitors to your site every single day. For example, a blog we wrote in 2017, called “What Is an Air Scrubber and How Does It Work?”, brings in about 5,000 users every month, more than any other page on the website. Google “air scrubber” or other related search terms and you’ll see this blog in the #1 organic position.
Instead of constantly paying for more advertising, one high-ranking blog post will continue to attract new users for as long as your website remains online and indexed.
1. Find out if you are in the Google index
This happens a lot more often than you may think. Many times, developers will restrict access to the site while it’s under development and then forget to update the robots.txt file after the site is completed.
Pull up Google and type:
Type in your website for the example domain. Do NOT include any spaces.
Press enter and you should see a list of Google search results that are restricted to that website only. If your website isn’t indexed, it won’t appear in the Google search results.
Here’s what it looks like for VitalStorm:
At the top of the search engine result page (SERP), Google will tell you the number of pages that are indexed by Google.
How to make sure your pages are indexed by Google
How many results are showing for your website? Is it more or less than what you expected?
If you don’t see any results, you either haven’t allowed Google to crawl your website or Google has banned your website from the index.
You will want to check Google Webmaster Tools for any messages under the Manual Actions report. If you have a Google penalty, fix all the issues listed in the report and then consider a Google reconsideration request by clicking on the Request Review button in the report.
If your Manual Actions report is clean, make sure you aren’t restricting access to Google and other search engines by checking your robots.txt file. You can find out if your robots.txt file is blocking web crawlers from any URLs on your site by using Google’s robots.txt Tester. You can also check your robots.txt file by typing in domain.com/robots.txt. Learn how to interpret your robots.txt file.
If you are using WordPress, make sure you have not checked the box that says “Discourage search engines from indexing this site” found under Settings > Reading.
The next step would be to resubmit your updated robots.txt to Google. You can use Fetch as Google to see exactly how Google crawls a page on your site and whether any parts of the page (scripts, images, etc.) are blocking the Googlebot.
2. Get rid of duplicate content
Whether it’s on your website or on other websites, Google does not like duplicate content. You can use a duplicate content checker like Copyscape to check for copies of the same content across the web.
Rather than blocking duplicate content with a robots.txt file, Google recommends consolidating the duplicate content pages into one or change the pages to contain unique content.
When writing a blog post, make sure all the content on the page is unique. If you do take content from anywhere, put it in quotes and link to the original source.
Make sure the page is not being blocked from appearing in Google Search by checking the source code of the page in question.
You do NOT want to see:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”>
Use this tag only if you want to block Google and other search engines from crawling the page. You can request Google to recrawl your page for faster indexing.
Another problem is having too many pages that are completely useless. Google only wants valuable pages. If you find a shocking amount of pages indexed by Google, you may have been hacked or simply need to clean up your website. You can use 301 redirects to direct users to a relevant page. If you think you’ve been hacked, contact VitalStorm or another service to investigate further and implement security upgrades, such as HTTPS.
3. Install the free Yoast SEO plugin for WordPress
While the Yoast SEO plugin won’t do all the work, but it does make it a lot easier to create SEO-friendly content. It will rate your page’s content in terms of readability and SEO friendliness.
- A grey dot means there is no information on the page
- A green dot means everything is good.
- A yellow/orange dot indicates there is room for improvement
- A red dot indicates serious problems
Additionally, it will track your target keyword phrase to make sure you are using it enough, but not too much. More information on the ratings will be provided within the Yoast plugin.
4. Conduct keyword research
Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s take a look at what it takes to improve search engine rankings for blog posts.
Before you start writing, you need to come up with an idea for what to write about. To do this effectively, it’s not just important to come up with a useful and interesting topic, but also one that you could potentially rank for.
Keyword research is important for understanding what your customers are searching for and the intent behind the search. When trying to boost your SEO rankings, especially for smaller websites, it’s important to focus on long-tail keywords (3-5 words) as opposed to short-tail (aka “head terms”) keywords (1-3 words).
Considering that over 70% of online searches are long-tail and around 25% are completely unique “ultra-long-tail,” it’s a good idea to get specific when it comes to your keywords.
Once you come up with a good keyword phrase, it will help you formulate a relevant and eye-catching headline. Make sure to include the keyword in the headline/title, preferably toward the beginning.
5. Types of blog posts that drive more traffic
Before you craft the perfect headline, take a minute and figure out which blog post type is most appropriate for the blog topic. Doing some keyword research and figuring out the blog post type that is most appropriate will almost write your headline for you.
There are many different types of blog posts you can choose from, such as:
• How-To/Tutorial Post – a very common and effective way for instructing your visitor how to execute a process.
• List Post – a list of resources, tools, or anything else that your audience would find useful.
• Checklist/To-Do Post – breaking content down into an easy-to-read checklist often performs better because action items are itemized in a useful format.
• Problem and Solution Post – a simple post that clearly defines the problem and then presents a solution.
• Research Post – provides more information on a topic using primary and secondary research. It can be useful to curate research and combine it all in an article, infographic, or other piece of content.
• FAQ Post – answers frequently asked questions, especially ones that come from customers or prospects. Knowing the common questions and pain points of your customers can help you create content around these topics.
• Case Study Post – an outline or analysis of a project, event, process, or data set. They tend to take more time, but they carry more perceived value than other posts.
• Video/Transcript Post – a great way to kill two birds with one stone. Record a video and then provide a transcript and some related copy below. This way, you’ll get more views for your video while increasing traffic to your blog.
There are hundreds of additional blog post ideas, but these tend to produce the most valuable, engaging, and popular content.
6. Time for the headline
“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”
– David Ogilvy
Significant time should be spent on crafting a compelling headline. If you did your keyword research and came up with a good blog post type, you’ve already done a lot of the work. But you’re not done yet. We recommend coming up with at least 6 different headlines and then choose the best one. You can use a tool like EMV Headline Analyzer to boost your chances of success.
Unfortunately, 80% of readers never make it past the headline according to Moz. A simple change, even just adding a question mark to the end, can make the headline much more powerful. By combining helpful feedback, keyword research, blog post type, and your intuition, you can create a catchy headline that gets clicks. Just make sure it isn’t clickbait — the headline should reflect the content.
Still stuck? Browse our swipe file of hundreds of headline ideas.
7. Great content starts with a great lead
The second most important element of a successful piece of writing behind the headline is the introduction, or as journalists call it — the lead.
As the name implies, a good lead is supposed to beckon the reader in, enticing them to read the entire article. The introduction (lead paragraph) sets the tone, direction, and rhythm of the piece.
Example of a good blog post introduction:
As you can see, this opening sentence gets right to the point, is easy-to-read, and builds curiosity. Starting something is often the hardest part, but once you get going it can be difficult to stop. The same applies to your blog post.
8. Create consumable, bite-sized sentences and paragraphs
While it may be disheartening to hear, nearly half (43%) of all adults living in the U.S. have Basic or Below Basic literacy skills (NCES). This is why “readability” is so important and why the Yoast SEO plugin runs a readability analysis to determine how easy it is to read and understand.
For most markets, you want to make sure your content can be read and understood by a 4th or 5th grader. Of course, this depends on your audience, but you always want the message to be presented in a clear, concise way using everyday language. Avoid jargon and difficult words. This isn’t a college essay.
There are many factors that go into the Yoast readability score:
• Transition words
• Sentence beginnings
• Paragraph length
• Sentence length
• Passive voice
make your text easier to read and understand by breaking it up the way a journalist would:
• Keep paragraphs under 6 lines long.
• Use bulleted/numbered lists.
• Add subheadings to break up distinct topics.
• Relevant images, gifs, and video.
• Look for places to add smooth transitions.
• Vary the text using bolding, italics, and blockquotes.
No matter how well-written your blog post is, if it isn’t consumable, you’ll lose readers and negatively impact your search engine rankings.
9. Tell the reader what to do with a clear call-to-action (CTA)
Now that your reader is chuting down the content, it’s time to get them to do something. What’s the goal of the blog post?
Yes, you want traffic, but blogging can do a whole lot more:
• Build a brand identity
• Build an email list and fan base
• Attract job candidates and industry talent
• Build trust, authority, and credibility
• Connect with customers and industry peers
• Capture media attention
• Analyze customer interest
• Facilitate word-of-mouth and cross-channel marketing
• Separate yourself from the competition
• Become an industry thought leader
The call-to-action should be relevant to the purpose and subject matter of the article.
Once the reader is done with the article, what’s the next step? Should they call you? Fill out a form? Subscribe to your email newsletter? Sign up for a webinar?
Design a call-to-action in a prominent position within the blog post to compel the reader to take a desired action. Here’s a list of 31 great call-to-action examples.
5 On-Page SEO Factors
4. Title Tag
5. Meta Description